Triumph: Nick LoGalbo leaving a lasting mark as USA Basketball’s 3x3 U18 coach
What stood out the most was the confetti flying.
Everything before felt like a whirlwind. Between the nearly countless hours of preparation, the backdrop of the pandemic and all the effort both the men’s and women’s 3x3 U18 National Teams put into winning the 2021 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup, reaching the gold medal ceremony was serendipity.
Nick LoGalbo, the head coach, remembers it as surreal.
“When we had the men’s and women’s teams standing up there with gold medals around their necks and the confetti flying, it was one of those surreal, dream-like moments that I will never forget,” he recalled. “Outside of marrying my wife and being a father to our three amazing children, that [winning a gold medal] is the ultimate dream. I hope we can run it back this summer.”
With memories of the 2021 summer still fresh in his mind, LoGalbo was asked by USA Basketball to coach the USA 3x3 U18 National Teams again this year. His answer was simple – yes, and his reasoning for doing so resides in how the 3x3 game not only brought with it some of his fondest memories but also stretched him to improve as a basketball coach.
During active 3x3 games, coaches aren’t anything more than spectators. They must watch, hoping their teams adhere or adjust to differing game plans without their direct input. All the coaching work is handled before the game instead of during, making preparation the most important virtue in competitions.
And for LoGalbo, in his 3x3 experience, he received lessons in both preparation and player trust.
“Coaching 3x3 last year made me a better coach,” he said with a smile. “Last year, practices meant a lot. We had to nail everything in that window of time because that was it. Once the games started, the players had to figure things out for themselves. And that helped me, seeing them figure things out for themselves. It allowed me to trust more.
“That’s the approach I'm trying to take more as a coach now in five-on-five, as well. Let your players go a little bit. Loosen the reins when they know what they need to do. Last year helped me with that.”
As the head coach at Lane Technical College Prep High School in Chicago, LoGalbo’s relationship with USA Basketball started at a point in his life where he was attempting to turn a tragedy into triumph.
In 2014, LoGalbo’s cousin was shot in Chicago.
Thinking back to the incident today conjures up a slight emotional tremble in LoGalbo’s voice. It was his living nightmare.
He’d returned home from announcing a football game at Lane and was catching up with his wife before bed when he received a call saying his cousin was in an accident.
LoGalbo rushed to the hospital, unaware of the severity of his cousin's injuries. All he knew was he needed to be there. Most of what he remembers from that night is a mixture of anguish and pain and the pressing image of a family member holding on to life by a thread connected to a sprawling web of machines heading into emergency surgery.
“I remember my first cousin, the father of my second cousin that was shot, hugging me and collapsing in my arms,” LoGalbo said. “He said that he was going to lose his son, and I can’t put into words what that felt like.”
He stayed at the hospital all night.
In the morning, on his way home, he stopped by Lane Tech. His team had an early morning open gym. He was still wearing the same clothes from the night before.
After holding his emotions together for his family all night, he broke down as his team watched.
“Be smart and safe,” he told them. “Be aware. Do not take one second of life for granted.”
There in the gym, in front of his team, out of pain for his cousin, amidst the confusion and heartache, LoGalbo understood the difference he needed to make in his community -- curbing gun violence.
To do so, he chose basketball with the hope of empowering the youth and bringing communities together.
It started as simple community outreach, putting on youth clinics with 3x3 tournaments where he also talked about the importance and impact of non-violence.
From there, he called upon the connection he made with longtime USA Basketball junior national team coach Don Showalter at a coaching clinic to put him in touch with Jay Demings, USA Basketball’s youth and sport development and 3x3 director.
In the following years, he increased both his message of non-violence, working with former NBA All-Star Joakim Noah to raise awareness around gun violence, and his participation with USA Basketball, speaking at several coaching clinics throughout the United States.
LoGalbo’s work continued with USA Basketball leading up to the summer of 2021 when he received an opportunity to coach the 3x3 U18 National Teams.
“Coach LoGalbo led USA Basketball to double-gold with our women’s and men’s teams in 2021 despite a short training window and a pandemic that affected us all,” Demings said. “It takes a special and talented teacher to coach 3x3 given its complexities, and we are fortunate to have him back to lead these young athletes on their gold-medal mission.”
LoGalbo’s cousin survived the shooting but is paralyzed.
Now he views that family tragedy as the catalyst moment, a conduit to the conversation, which helped send him down the pathway of working with USA Basketball.
He took the pain and chose to make a lasting difference.
“My initiation in USA Basketball was when my cousin was shot in inner-city Chicago,” he said. “I took it hard. But I wanted to turn that negative into something positive.”
Ahead of the 2022 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup, LoGalbo often finds himself thinking back to last summer's gold medals.
It’s not lost on him how rare gold medal opportunities are -- he’s chasing another. He also knows what made those teams special was the unselfishness of the athletes he coached.
“I give so much kudos to these athletes,” he said. “They all checked everything at the door and bought into the goal of winning gold for their country. It was beautiful.”
He’s aiming to recreate the same chemistry between the 2022 teams. With Eric Dailey Jr. on the men’s side and Mikaylah Williams on the women’s side returning from last year's group, he already has a leg up in that regard.
The pressure to live up to the gold standard is there. He knows that the U.S. will get the best from each team they will play in Hungary later this month, but he expects his athletes to meet the challenge head-on.
However, more than anything else, along with a gold medal, he hopes the teams walk away with lifetime connections.
“The big goal is winning gold,” LoGalbo said, “that’s the number one priority. But I also want the players that are getting the opportunity to be a part of this to have a really special experience. I want this to be something they never forget, and I want them to enjoy it.
“I always say never take special for granted. So, let’s get out there and give it all we have and make some memories.”
A perspective only gleaned from life’s hardships and his attempt to turn tragedy into an opportunity for lasting service in the lives of the next generation.
“He exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader,” Demings said. “We should all be proud that he’s instructing our young women and men.”